Influential Engagement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

All caught up in a state of reflection, I sit down to write.  I journal all the time. I keep a leather bound book of unlined pages with me at all times. On most days I fill many pages and on others maybe just a few. The written records serve to capture and further inform the events and experiences of everyday and quite often unearth self-revelations I might otherwise not recognize. Through my writings, I collect observations that help me make sense of things. And often bits are taken from these accounts that become their own works such as the one that you are reading.

One such observation relates to the topic, I’ve long addressed, the importance of the museum experience. O’er the years my students have become well acquainted with the frequently asked question, “who among you visited a museum since last week’s studio class?”

Many quiet themselves, bow their heads just a little, and I watch, as their eyes shift curiously from one fellow art student to another. Eventually, a student breaks the awkward silence.  Some shamelessly profess, “No,” implying no perceived importance in taking one’s time to visit said institutions. One may suddenly remember, and with much excitability say, “oh yes, I did, but it wasn’t an art museum, if that’s what you’re asking.” While another, slowly speaks up, and then with ease elaborates on a recent weekend trip to a prestigious regional art museum. The student proceeds to tell of the short time spent there, as it was a hurried visit, the exhibits attended and the exhibits avoided and further explains the reason for their choices.

After the students share from their experiences, I join the conversation. I explain the importance of all museums, sharing insight on how even another genre museum might inform an artist’s view of things. I go on to present thoughts related to the education one might attain through museum engagements whether the person is an artist or not.

I think back over many years, and I reflect upon my memories remembering my first museum experiences and I write them down. I realize that nearly every childhood visit with my grandparents often involved a museum. It wasn’t an art museum. At my request, they would take me to the nearby Museum of Aviation. Each time we would explore the galleries. I would climb into the interactive aircraft exhibit, and we would also watch the same documentary film on aviation history highlighting the Warner Robins Airforce Base involvement in United States history, the campaigns of Sam Nunn and President Jimmy Carter, on every visit.

I wonder if my grandparents ever tired of visiting the same place on so many occasions, and watching the same film over and over again. Never in my memory was there an indication of this. Instead, the film footage plays in my mind and I can hear the concluding segment as Lee Greenwood sings, “Proud to be an American.” Throughout my life, I didn’t think of this childhood experience as impressionable. I suppose in my early life, I equated it to nothing more than a family activity categorized as entertaining. In retrospect, I credit my view of museum institutions and the experiences and education attained through them to frequency in which I was taken to museums in my childhood.

The museum experience shapes the mind and expands a life in ways beyond those initially perceived.

Art is life expressed – Sarah West, owner of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art